In his TLS review of Kathryn Walls’s study of the symbolism of Una in Spenser’s Faerie Queene (God’s Only Daughter), Bart van Es compares Walls’s book to that of John Dixon, a sixteenth century farmer who annotated his copy of Spenser:

“Like Dixon, Walls takes the Bible and sixteenth-century theology as her primary frame of reference and, like him, she tends to leave Spenser’s literary influences (such as Virgil, Ariosto and Tasso) to one side. Unlike Dixon, Walls is not much interested in politics. The sixteenth-century annotator developed a special code that he used to record the names of contemporary individuals, whose identities he thought were shielded behind Spenser’s characters. Walls’s Spenser is more elevated and doctrinal; her key concern is not with individuals but with Calvinist theology,” and specifically with the Calvinist notion of the invisible church.

Van Es finds that “Dixon’s solution was messier but more durable: Una is ‘truth’ but also Queen Elizabeth, Christ and his Gospel, and Holiness. These meanings coexist; they are not part of any coherent progression; even Spenser did not fully comprehend their scope. The reader of God’s Only Daughter will come away better informed about sixteenthcentury Calvinism, but, one hopes, not with the idea that Una’s story has been solved.”

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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